GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians purchased Michael Brantley's ticket to Triple-A Columbus the day they signed Russell Branyan to a one-year, $2 million contract last month. The plan was to have Matt LaPorta in left field, Branyan at first and Brantley doing his time with the Clippers. Plans began to change as the condition of Branyan's back held him further and further back in Spring Training camp, to the point where the Indians decided Branyan would open the season on the 15-day disabled list. Brantley twisted in the wind for a while, but the Indians finally let him know Wednesday that he'll open the season as their starting left fielder.
"You never know what can happen," Brantley said. "I could have hit .800 [this spring] and been sent down. It's going to be a great thrill to be in the big leagues this year." How long will Brantley, who had a stellar September in the big leagues last year but an average season at the Triple-A level beforehand, remain in the Majors? That will be determined by Branyan's status and Brantley's performance. It's well-documented that the Indians' first preference was to avoid having this season count toward Brantley's arbitration-eligibility, but his impressive spring made it clear he has no business being sent down just yet. "He's certainly earned an opportunity to be here," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "Ideally, you'd get a little more Minor League time with a guy like that, but he's earned the opportunity. We told him he'll be making the decisions for us, going forward." Brantley, acquired in the 2008 CC Sabathia trade, has hit .333 with an .866 OPS in 17 games this spring. Last September, he hit .313 in the big leagues after batting .267 in Columbus. He was hampered all season by right ankle problems, but he came to camp feeling strong. "I worked very hard for this opportunity," he said. Brantley, the son of former Major League outfielder and hitting coach Mickey Brantley, has impressed the Indians with his poise as much as his performance. "Michael's done everything we could have asked," Shapiro said. "He obviously handles himself with great poise and maturity, well beyond his chronological years. He has a solid approach to hit, a good outfielder with a good arm. He's a complete player, a professional and a good teammate."